You can read Rick Nelson’s 2011 story on Charlie’s and a regeneration of the famous potato salad recipe at the Minneapolis Star Tribune website. Before you read it, take my word and understand that the recipe cannot possibly be the genuine article.
Here’s why: specifics. In no particular order, how about telling us what kind of dry mustard? McCormick’s is noticeably different from, say, Colman’s Dry Mustard. How cooked do you want the potatoes, firm or starting to break down and get a little mushy? When they say it is prepared in stages, there is nothing…no information whatsoever giving us a timeline in the assemblage of ingredients. Do you make the mayo a day or three ahead of time? Do you mix all the ingredients and let it “haunt” overnight in the refrigerator? Kinda crucial information to leave out, don’t you think?
One other thing: the mayonnaise. It calls for 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, one you mix first with all the other ingredients and then you add the last tablespoon toward the end of mixing. Hogwash. That second splash of lemon juice completely breaks this mayo down and essentially liquefies what should be a creamy, custardy consistency into something more akin to a vinaigrette. Sloppy. It doesn’t bind the rest of the potato salad ingredients at all, and it’s waaaaaay too acidic. I want some tanginess in my potato salad, but I don’t need my cheek walls to cave in from a pucker-plosion. Get my drift?
No, I assembled this legendary recipe per the information I had, and I got potato salad. It was okay. A flat grade of B-. It was not particularly memorable, nor flavorful, nor textural. I’m really surprised that Rick Nelson, a normally vigilant and resourceful man of food, and a guy whose words on dining to me are nearly unquestionable, had neither appeared to have tested the recipe himself, nor recanted or revised his story or checked with the Barbara Flanagans of the world to reclaim the veracity of the recipe. It was Barbara after all, who reissued the recipe to the Star Tribune after Charlie’s owner, Louise Saunders, gave her blessing. Saunders had earlier declared “incorrect”, all previously published versions of the potato salad. FYI, the pic below is the beloved Flanagan, circa sometime in the late 70’s. She’s well into her 90’s now, but still full of enthusiasm I’m told.
I’m going back to the drawing board and first deconstructing the recipe, then reconstructing it. They got their hooks in me, and I’m not quitting until I get the real Charlie’s Café Exceptionale Potato Salad recipe to share with you.
Until then, thanks as always for reading. Now, go eat something! -Jack
….photos courtesy Star Tribune.com, artinfinityteam.com and the Minnesota Historical Society